[All photos courtesy USA Judo unless otherwise noted. Face plant courtesy Katelyn.]
Forgive me if I may seem a little…bragadocious…today. I think you’ll understand.
It’s just that my 16-year-old cousin Katelyn returned from Singapore this week. What was she doing there, you ask?
Oh…winning Youth Olympic gold medals. Making history. That’s all.
[Katelyn won gold!! Katelyn won gold!! Katelyn won gold!!!]
Katelyn was only six years old when she first told her mom that she would someday fight at “the place with the rings.”
This is not just something kids say. At six years old, she said it, and she meant it. She said it, and for ten years she has trained her heart out working towards it.
She said it, and last Friday, she did it. She fought in the Youth Olympics in Singapore.
Before last week, no American had ever won gold in an Olympic event for judo.
Not the case anymore. Not only did Katelyn win gold, she also did not allow a single fighter to score a single point on her in the entire tournament.
[How do ya like them apples, my friends?? HOW do ya LIKE them APPLES??]
As a parent, this has prompted some reflection for me. What makes a champion? I think, in Katelyn’s case, it is a combination of factors.
First and foremost, Katelyn has the heart of a champion. Without going on and on about our grandfather, I will just say that he was the most intense person I will ever know. If you did not know his passion, his heart, his I-Am-Prepared-To-Die-In-Defense-Of-My-Convictions intensity, then you did not know him.
So it comes as no surprise that Katelyn is as determined as she is. She can’t help it. It’s in her blood.
[Do you see how, by extension, I have the blood of a champion, too? The bragging in those last two paragraphs was kind of subtle—I want to make sure you didn’t miss it.]
Secondly, Katelyn is strong. And not by accident, either. She is strong because she uses that fire in her soul to train her body many hours each day.
I made the mistake of stepping onto a judo mat with Katelyn when she was 12. (I was 25, mind you.) Stepping onto the mat, I felt badly for her. This wasn’t fair, really. I was twice her age. I had at least 20 pounds on her, and at that time, I was exercising a lot too, and was at the pinnacle of my own personal fitness. But, Katelyn—poor thing–she was [is] just so cute.
I wonder if it took a full 10 seconds for her to get me on my back, wondering which way was up. I don’t think it took 10 seconds.
So, make no mistake about it: she is strong. But, on top of that, she has a most beautiful brain. The girl is smart as a whip. Eloquent, polite, and intelligent as they come. I am confident that she outsmarts her opponents as much as she outmaneuvers them.
As a testament to her intelligence, Katelyn is constantly in search of opportunities to learn. For example, she became a wrestler as a means of improving her judo. (She a state champ in wrestling, by the way. Wrestling against boys. But, whatever.)
So, she’s got passion, she’s got strength, she’s got smarts, and on top of that, she’s got an unbelievable judo coach: her dad. Uncle Serge coached America’s other judo representative in these games, too. That fighter, Maxamillian Schneider, won gold too. And nobody scored any points on him either. (Each country was only allowed to enter two players: one male and one female.)
So that’s my surface-level, outsider’s perspective on some of the factors that make a champion: determination, strength, smarts, and world-class coaching. (Not that I’m making plans for Punga to win the Olympics. I just think it’s good to contemplate these things.)
But what do I know, really? I’m sure there are a million other factors involved.
I do know that Katelyn’s victory brings to mind one of my Favorite Quotes Of All Time:
“Man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle: victorious.”
[Please read that quote as being gender-neutral, despite the male pronouns. Or else I’ll sic Katelyn on you.]
Do you have any thoughts regarding what makes a champion?